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Doggie Paychecks

June 26, 2019 | Tips and Training

“How long do I have to give him the food treats?”

Positive reinforcement based dog training is fabulous for dogs and people — solving problems, building skills, enriching relationships. The most commonly used reinforcer is food– it’s powerful, quick to deliver, and we have to feed them anyway!

But, is food the only choice for a reinforcer? Most people training their dog will ask at some point: “How long do I have to keep giving him the food treats?”

You could certainly keep right on maintaining your dog’s behaviors with food provided that you are staying within the dog’s calorie budget and ensuring adequate nutrition. We don’t work without a paycheck — your dog’s behaviors won’t stay strong unless he’s “paid”, either.

But– what if your dog is not super food motivated? Or he is…. Until he sees another dog…. Or his leash….Or the ocean…. How do we motivate there?

Think of reinforcers as falling into 3 categories: stuff you can give, games you can play, and access you can grant.

Stuff you can give is maybe the most obvious category, containing rewards such as: food, toy, patting, praise, leashing and so on.

You and your dog probably love playing games together, but it may not have occurred to you to use them as reinforcers. You might ‘tell’ your dog :

  • ‘Sit and I’ll throw the ball’
  • ‘Give and we’ll play tug’ (played with rules and self-control),
  • ‘Come and you get to Chase me’
  • And so on

What about the ‘Access you can grant’ category? This is powerful, but less obvious.

  • “Wanna play in the ocean? First sit and give me eye contact, and then we’ll walk on down there.”
  • “Wanna say hi to your buddy? Every loose-leash step takes you closer. Every pulling step and we back away from your prize.”

So, to sum up:

  1. It’s okay to keep right on food rewarding so long as you are smart about raising the performance level.
  2. It’s also great to use play as pay. It’s fun and bond building, too.
  3. And — the diabolical thing about “access” reinforcer- you were generally going to give your dog access anyway.
    • You were planning to walk the beach.
    • You need to put on that leash.

You’re going to hand out the reward, anyway! Your choice is do I put the leash on the jumping bouncing dog, reinforce that, and get worse and worse behavior?

You don’t have a choice that those items are rewarding. You do have a choice to use them consciously and well, rather than accidentally and badly, in training!

Using a diversity of rewards builds relationships while building compliance– so seek the joy!

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